Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art
The history of botanical art
The earliest surviving illustrated botanical work is the Codex vindobonensis. It is a copy of Dioscorides’ de Materia Medica, and was made in the year 512 for Juliana Anicia, daughter of the former Western Roman Emperor Olybrius.
The emergence of botanical illustration as a genre of art, however, dates back to the 15th century, when herbals (books describing the culinary and medicinal uses of plants) were printed containing illustrations of flowers. As printing techniques advanced, and new plants came to Europe from Ottoman Turkey in the 16th century, wealthy individuals and botanic gardens commissioned artists to record the beauty of these exotics in ‘Florilegia’. At Kew, Sir Joseph Banks employed Franz Bauer as 'Botanick Painter to His Majesty' and also sent artists on plant-collecting expeditions.
As well as being beautiful, botanical illustrations became important scientific records through which plants were named and classified. Franz Bauer had a particularly accurate eye for detail. An image of a pollen grain he drew in the 18th century, using only a basic microscope, was later proved by a scanning electron microscope to be entirely accurate. Other important botanical illustrators include Walter Hood Fitch, who completed 10,000 drawings while working as Kew’s principal artist between 1837 and 1877. Kew still commissions around 100 botanical illustrations a year.
About the collection
Kew’s archives contain 200,000 works of botanical art. These include pieces by 18th and 19th century masters, including Ehret, Redouté and the Bauer brothers, along with works by contemporary artists.
In 2008, Kew opened a new gallery to display these works alongside pieces from the collection of Dr Shirley Sherwood. Dr Sherwood’s collection includes illustrations by contemporary artists living in 30 countries. Connected to the Marianne North Gallery, and with a carefully controlled interior climate, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is the first public gallery in the world dedicated to showing botanical art.
Dr Shirley Sherwood
Dr Shirley Sherwood travels extensively and has been collecting contemporary botanical illustrations since 1990. Her comprehensive collection from over 200 artists, living in 30 different countries, documents the emergence of a new wave of botanical paintings and the renaissance of their art form. She has written many books on botanical art.
Interested in plants and art since childhood, Dr Sherwood earned her undergraduate degree in botany from Oxford University, then her D. Phil. as part of the research team of Nobel Prize winner Sir James Black, whose group discovered Tagamet, one of the most successful drugs produced for the treatment for duodenal ulcers.
Dr. Sherwood and her husband James Sherwood, her two sons and five grandchildren all supported the building of the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art which is the only purpose-designed gallery in the world which is dedicated solely to botanical art.
Talks and Courses
We frequently have botanical illustration courses in Kew Gardens to find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8332 5626 or
Botanical prints and books
You can buy botanical art prints from Kew's collection.
Kew publishes many books featuring botanical art.
Kew commissioned a set of fine art prints commemorating each decade of Her Majesty's reign selected from works at Kew.